Last week was a busy week here in London. The London Book fair was held April 14-17, and on Saturday I attended the Verulam Writers’ Circle Get Writing Conference.
I think I learned almost as much from the questions as I did from the speakers. For instance, I was quite surprised to hear so many people were surprised to learn that many authors—including crime authors Claire McGowan and Ann Cleeves—do not plot their books in advance. For me, it was validating to hear Claire McGowan say that she writes by the seat of her pants (and since we’re in England, I should say the seat of her trousers, since “pants” has a different meaning here than it does in the US). And, like me, she keeps a running chapter/scene list that she refers to, of the scenes she’s already written.
The key, she said, is being able to trust the process, knowing that when you sit down to write that something good will come out, that the concept of story is embedded in your deep subconscious and it won’t fail you. THIS is what I have a problem with—trusting my subconscious to choose the right path, the right story event, the right “what happens next”.
Ann Cleeves, who’s written dozens of crime novels and has had two of her series adapted for television (the ITV series Vera is based on her detective Vera Stanhope) writes in a similar fashion. Yet I don’t have that much experience under my belt, and for me, facing the blank page, not knowing where the story is going, is like jumping in a car and racing off toward Scotland without a road map. Yet, that seems to be the only way I can write.
The London Book Fair wasn’t quite as positive an experience. I learned there are two types of people who actually want to talk to authors there: those who want to sell us something and those who want to give us a massage. Yes, I mean a literal massage—there were masseurs in the corridors with benches set up where they gave massages to the participants. I avoid massages generally, both the literal ones and the figurative ones, so I just shook my head to that offer. Yet I did speak with some of the exhibitors who wanted to sell me things—in one case, a marketing package, and in another, a self-publishing package.
I decided both “offers” would end up with me holding the shorter end of the stick, and a severely diminished bank account. Yes, you have to spend money to make money. But there’s no magic formula either, and if you can think of another cliché to add to this paragraph, go right ahead.
And that sort of brings me around full circle. It’s the writing, stupid. You can market the hell out of a book, but if the writing isn’t good, the sales won’t follow. You can have your book formatted by the best manipulator of text out there, but if the writing is full of—well, clichés—the book won’t sell.
I’m kinda glad to be back in my writing cave today, with no distractions other than a dog who wants to be walked and a shoe delivery to wait for. (I also ordered new walking shoes last week!) I’ll focus on the writing and hope that the half-formed story in my head will reveal itself somehow on the page.
It’s time to stop worrying and Get Writing.